With his team in need of a spark, North Hall’s Chris Barnes went to work.
The senior guard scored 15 of his game-high 22 points in the second half to lead the Trojans to a 55-43 win over Johnson on Tuesday night. North Hall advances to the next round of the Region 8-AAA tournament where it will play Gainesville at 6 p.m. Thursday at Franklin County. That contest will be precede the game between Franklin County and Walnut Grove, which advanced with a 60-48 win over Lumpkin County in Tuesday’s first game at North Hall.
A win in Thursday's games clinches a berth in the Class AAA state tournament.
“It was just dedication and hard work,” said Barnes, who scored seven straight points during a 10-4 scoring run to close the third quarter. “We started the second half in a deficit and I needed to lead the team.
“It all started on defense.”
Trailing 26-23 to start the third quarter, North Hall (16-10, No. 3 seed Region 8A-AAA) picked up the defensive intensity to force seven turnovers by Johnson (12-15, No. 6 seed Region 8B-AAA). Those turnovers led to wide-open jumpers by Barnes, who went 6 for 9 from the floor in the second half.
“Chris Barnes really stepped up,” North Hall coach Benjie Wood said. “He really showed some senior leadership.”
He displayed that leadership late in the third quarter when he tracked down his own errant 3-point attempt, faked out a defender, then found a wide-open Andrew Smith, who knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Trojans their largest lead of the game at 43-38.
“If you give 3-point shooting teams another chance, it’s going to come back to bite you,” Johnson coach Jeff Steele said. “We did a good job of limiting possessions in the first half.”
The same can’t be said about the fourth quarter, when North Hall outrebounded the Knights 11-3.
“We gave up too many offensive rebounds,” Steele said. “They probably tripled their offensive rebound output in the second half.”
With control of the boards, the Trojans took control of the game.
After Johnson’s Jalen Bowers opened the fourth quarter with a 3-pointer to cut the deficit to two points, the Trojans reeled off four straight points, including two off an in-bounds play that saw Barnes bounce the ball off the back of a defender for an easy lay-in. That basket began a personal 8-2 scoring run for Barnes, who said Tuesday’s win was big for a program that has faced so many ups and downs this year.
“It shows we’ve come together and we’re going to stay a team,” said Barnes, who also had four rebounds and three steals. “We will overcome adversity.”
Wood echoed his senior’s sentiments.
“You find out a lot about yourself when you go through adversity,” he said. “These kids stuck with it and I’m proud to be their coach.”
The previous issues during the season might have helped prevent the Trojans from panicking in the first half when they trailed by as much as seven points. Early on, North Hall had no answer for Johnson junior Matt Hollis, who scored eight of his 10 points in the first half.
But then the full-court pressure started to work, and the Trojans went on an 11-0 run to take a 23-21 lead with 1:18 left in the second quarter. That lead was their first since the score was 2-0.
“I knew they’d make a run,” Steele said. “I knew they’d keep coming with the pressure, and when you get physically tired, sometimes you get mentally tired.
“I thought if we had another 16 minutes like the first, we would have been in good shape.”
Ty Odem had a team-high 15 points and seven rebounds for the Knights, whose season is now complete.
WALNUT GROVE BOYS 60, LUMPKIN COUNTY 48: Nick Peters scored a game-high 27 points, his twin brother Chris Peters added 18, and the Warriors (13-13, No. 4 seed Region 8B-AAA) advanced to the next round of the Region 8-AAA tournament Tuesday at North Hall.
Hunter Polk and Taylor Guthrie each scored 19 points for the Indians (8-18, No. 5 seed Region 8A-AAA), whose season is now complete.